Bears visit, NFL attention rewarding for emerging OL Cameron Lee

Part 5 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL draft, which begins on April 27.

Two days spent with the Bears included an I-need-to-pinch-myself moment for Illinois State offensive lineman Cameron Lee.

First, Lee had dinner with new offensive-line coach Jeremiah Washburn. And the next day, he met general manager Ryan Pace, coach John Fox and members of the training and nutrition staffs.

“It was exciting, but, honestly, it was just kind of rewarding,” Lee said of his recent pre-draft visit to Halas Hall.

Illinois State offensive lineman Cameron Lee at the NFL Scouting Combine. (AP)

“I was a walk-on at Illinois State. I never even took a college official visit. To have one in the NFL, it was like, ‘Wow, look how far you made it.’ ”

And he’s not done yet.

The Bears certainly have their reasons to be interested in Lee. Under Pace, the Bears can never have enough depth on the offensive line. The Bears also have a history of targeting players who can handle different spots up front.

Lee — who also had a formal interview with the Saints at the NFL Scouting Combine — can do that.

In his last season at Illinois State, Lee started 12 games and made a late move from right guard to right tackle. He started every game at right guard as a junior.

At 6-6 and 312 pounds with long arms, Lee has pro-level size. His strength stands out on film, but through his interactions with NFL teams, he knows more will be expected in the near future.

“I’m still in the process of getting better,” said Lee, who played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and has spoken with nearly every team during the draft process.

“[Coaches] see me as a guy with a lot of upside and a lot of potential. There are some mechanical and strength things that I need to work on and improve on that will get me to the next level and allow me to have a career out of it.’’

Teams will host players on visits to get a feel for what makes them tick as people, and Lee’s underdog story surely is one that will resonate with some coaches.

Lee was a three-sport star at Oakwood High School — “It’s a really small school in a really small town in Central Illinois,” he said — but he didn’t have any scholarship offers despite his size and accomplishments in football. Only Illinois State and Indiana State invited him to walk on.

“I certainly was the low man on the totem pole,” Lee said. “I had to really put in my time.”

The Bears and other teams have noticed.

He has turned out to be much more than a college walk-on.

“I’ve come from a really small town; I had to walk on at Illinois State,” Lee said. “I always feel like that’s what made me who I am and what has made me successful.

“I feel a little [ticked] off, honestly. I’ve always played like that. I feel like I’ve been overlooked a lot, and that’s part of the way I play and who I am.”

Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns.

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

POSITION SPOTLIGHT: OL

Rating Bears’ need: Medium.

Under contract

Kyle Long, Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, Charles Leno Jr., Bobby Massie, Tom Compton, Eric Kush, Hroniss Grasu, Cornelius Edison, William Poehls, Cyril Richardson.

You should know

Unlike the previous two seasons, the Bears return all five starters — Leno, Sitton, Whitehair, Long, Massie — in the same spots. It will help new quarterback Mike Glennon.

But it will be telling if the Bears add a draft pick to push Leno and/or Massie.

Leno is in the last year of his rookie contract. Massie has two years left on his contract, but he can be released after this season with little financial consequence.

Best of the best

The best tackles are Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin), Garett Bolles (Utah) and Cam Robinson (Alabama). Forrest Lamp (Western Kentucky), Dan Feeney (Indiana) and Ethan Pocic (LSU) are among the best interior linemen.

The quote

‘‘We spend way too much time talking about how difficult the conversion is for quarterbacks and not enough time talking about other positions — and one of them is [offensive] tackle. We’ve had a bunch of tackles that have either been [busts] or have struggled to play until about the third year at a certain level.’’ — NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock

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